3 Reasons Specializing Earns Freelancers More

3 Reasons Specializing Earns Freelancers More


To earn a higher income, freelancers need to specialize.

Why? Lots of good reasons (it makes you a bigger fish in a smaller pond, it helps clients find you), but one of the most significant reasons is that specializing makes it easier to position yourself as an expert. And clients who pay well want to work with experts.

Restaurants are a great example.

Imagine you were planning an important dinner, and you have two restaurants to choose from. One has an eight-page menu offering just about everything you could imagine a restaurant serving. And on top of that, they promise if they don't have it on the menu, they can make it for you, just the way you like it. 

Photo: Brooke Lark (cheekykitchen.com)

Photo: Brooke Lark (cheekykitchen.com)

The other specializes in exquisite Tuscan food. They have a beautifully typeset two-page menu. The executive chef studied with a famous Florentine chef for three years. The wine list, filled with Carmignanos, Bolgheris, and Chiantis, was curated by a master sommelier. And a friend told you the pasta, made fresh by hand daily, practically melts in your mouth.  

Which would you choose for a special event?

If you chose the Italian restaurant, here's the good news: you're thinking like a high-paying client. And when you take an even closer look at our restaurant analogy, you'll see three reasons why specializing as a freelancer can help you earn more.

1.) Specializing sets you apart because you're showcasing your skills and experience in a relevant way for your clients.

Specializing isn't about bragging or lying. It's about focusing. 

When you focus on a specific industry, business, project or geographical area, giving it all your attention and building a portfolio that proves it, clients looking for that expertise will choose you because your expertise feels like a safe bet for them.

Remember, clients have a lot on the line when hiring a freelancer. From business objectives to budget goals, even their professional reputation and year-end bonus can be on the line. Your job, in all the moments leading up to a project's green light, is to convince them you're the ideal, low-risk, high-return choice. Specializing is perfectly suited for that.

Let's return to our two restaurants for a minute. What if the executive chef of the first restaurant claimed to be an expert in every cuisine? Regardless of your culinary knowledge, you'd know that's implausible (if not impossible). So, that leaves you wondering: what other things that chef is stretching the truth about?

The same thing can happen when a generalist claims to be an expert. Even if it's true, most clients would be skeptical because we all learned somewhere along the line that it's impossible to be great at everything. Specializing gives your expertise value and credibility.

2.) Your perceived value as a specialist is higher than as a generalist. 

Think about the picture you formed of each restaurant as you read about them. For the Italian restaurant, you probably pictured a small, intimate place. Servers in white shirts, black ties, crisp aprons. Linen tablecloths and candles. Menus printed on ivory cardstock. 

But what was the image you conjured up for the first restaurant? A big place, maybe even a buffet or cafeteria. Huge menus with plastic pages. Giant booths, harsh lighting. Frazzled servers. Serve-yourself soda fountains. Lettuce wilting under sneezeguards. 

But here's the kicker: How many of you, when I described the second restaurant, thought, "Whoa--I'll bet that place is expensive." 

Because the Italian restaurant has a laser speciality (down to the wine list), you assumed the prices would be high, but you also probably assumed they'd be higher than the first restaurant. Perceived value is a big benefit of specializing. It's one of the reasons specialists are able to charge more for their services. 

When you specialize, you attract the clients that want (and are willing to pay) for the expertise you built your business on. 

3.) Your "price sensitivity" isn't the same as a higher-paying clients'.

The fact is, just because you might not be inclined to eat at the Italian restaurant on any regular night, there are folks out there that regularly eat in places like the Italian restaurant, regardless if it's a special occasion or just a night they don't want to cook. For them, eating at a place like that is standard. And when the check arrives, they don't blink. They understand it's just the cost of going out to dinner. 

The same is true about clients. 

There are clients out there that want to work with the best. The people that know their industry. Or have a reputation for knocking a particular type of project out of the park. And they understand the fees these freelancers charge are the simply the cost of doing business.

Sure, they might be fewer than the clients willing to go to the "freelancer buffet." But when you working with high-end clients, you don't need to take on as many projects to meet your income goals because you warrant (and get) higher fees. 

The reality is every one of us expects a level of expertise, service, and experience according to the money we spend. The shift successful specialists make is realizing high-paying clients expect to pay for the best when they work with the best. Keep your prices fair for your clients and reflective of your expertise and skills.

Attracting (and working with) higher paying clients means providing the expertise, service, and experience they're looking for. And specializing is key to establishing that expertise in a believable, credible way.

Yes, there will always be clients who opt for the buffet because it's cheaper and they can get whatever they want. And those clients will continue to frequent "freelance buffets" like Upwork, Toptal, Freelancer, and others. There's nothing wrong with that.

But remember, just like the buffet, most freelancers getting their business mainly through freelance job sites have to rely on a high volume of projects to earn the kind of income they want. 

But by embracing your expertise, you can significantly up your freelance game by specializing...especially if you want to warrant higher fees instead of slogging it out on a treadmill of lower-paying projects just to earn the income you want.

So, step back and think about the skills and experience you bring to the table. Then decide if it's time to break out the linen tablecloth. 


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